Certainty Blog

How Leadership Style Affects Safety in Construction

In this blog series, we’ll be looking at how leadership style affects safety in construction. Construction is one of the most danger-prone industries there is – responsible for approximately 1 in 5 workplace fatalities. How can construction companies successfully create a safety program and achieve buy-in? We’ve spoken with industry professionals Steve Mellard, National Safety Director at Anning Johnson, and Desire’e Ropel, Safety Manager at Hermanson to get an insider look into how to manage safety in the construction industry.

Construction safety leadership

Previously, we discussed the elements that a construction safety program needs to be effective, and safety leadership came out as one of the top factors that will determine the effectiveness of a safety effort.

Ensuring safety in the construction industry is vital for both employees and the public. But implementing a successful safety performance program involves many moving parts and a constant commitment from the entire company. This is why one of the most important components of a construction safety management program is arguably leadership.

Construction Safety & The Importance of Fostering a Safety Climate

Safety on the job site is not just the responsibility of the safety manager. One of the most important things that leadership can bring about is widespread cultural change around the topic of safety. Steve Mellard, the National Safety Director at Anning Johnson, points to the importance of discouraging a “safety cop”. Viewing a safety manager as the only person in charge of safety makes it almost impossible to get employees to buy in. Mellard recommends avoiding authoritarian-style safety leadership, and instead promoting a leadership style that values speaking to employees using their own terminology and referencing past experiences in the field.

This has implications for hiring in leadership positions. Mellar recommends hiring safety managers based not only on their degrees but also on their experience in construction and their ability to relate to employees and the demands of the job.

Desire’e Ropel, Safety Manager at Hermanson also points to the importance of leadership being seen as a safety resource. Leadership needs to be level-headed, keep their composure, and be approachable in order for them to be truly successful at their jobs.

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Construction Safety & the Foundations for Safety Leadership

What are the actual characteristics of successful safety leadership? The CPWR – Center for Construction Research & Training has advised that there are 5 Skills and Actions for an Effective Safety Leader:

  1. Leads by Example: A good safety leader will “walk the talk”, demonstrate a positive attitude about safety, and establish safety expectations as a core value.
  2. Engages and Empowers Team Members: Team members should be encouraged and empowered to report hazards and safety concerns, and good leaders should be proactive in providing solutions, reporting near misses, and stopping work if necessary to maintain safety standards.
  3. Actively Listens and Practices 3-way Communication: A good leader will be an active listener and truly seek to hear what team members are saying. They will practice 3-way communication by having the person repeat back the message they heard.
  4. Develops Team Members Through Teaching, Coaching, and Feedback: Leaders should respectfully teach and coach workers, making sure to watch workers perform the proper safe behavior. Leaders should also focus on potential consequences rather than on the individual team member themselves.
  5. Recognizes Team Members For A Job Well Done: Whether publicly or privately, team members should be given recognition when it comes to safety.

Looking to boost your team’s safety leadership? The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) offers free materials to help train better safety management leaders.

In the next blog in our series on construction safety, we’ll cover how to improve employee buy-in & participation in your safety management program

Stay tuned!

Other blogs in this series:

4 Considerations When Improving Safety In The Construction Industry

What Must A Construction Safety Program Include To Be Effective?

Boosting Employee Buy-In To Your Safety Culture and Construction Safety Program

7 Significant Safety Issues Facing The Construction Industry

#1 Safety Issue In Construction As Told By Top Safety Management Industry Leaders

How Has Technology Changed Construction Safety?